"Laughter for a Change!" A Report from This Summer's Wild Goose Festival

    As folks came into our tent after a 30-minute deluge of rain they were greeted by Madge Max in her purple floral dress (the same one she’d worn to April's “Science March" and flaunted a giant bowl of mac n' cheese in which she'd planted a sign that said “Science Makes this Hot Dish Possible”) and Eunice Ruffles, flashing the most confident of smiles, because she knows the good news many have yet to discover:  polka dotted sunglasses can do a lot to change the world. 

I'm guessing folks really know what hit them when they walked into our workshop tent!

I'm guessing folks really know what hit them when they walked into our workshop tent!

     On an ironing board Madge and Eunice had placed a sign, “Bake Sale to Help Make America Great Again,” as well as tasty items to help ease present stresses and strains due to stalled GOP initiatives in Washington.  There were Honey Buns selling for $7 billion - to compensate for healthcare tax cuts for the wealthy that have yet to materialize; Pop Tarts for $5 billion - to bring a little healing poultice to corporations awaiting big tax breaks via GOP tax reform also yet to materialize; and, because Koch brothers money isn't coming to GOP coffers until the first two are accomplished, relief could be provided through the purchase of $12 billion jerky. Next to these goodies was a bowl for donations toward the purchase of sleeved dresses for Congresswomen.  Madge and Eunice were thrilled to promote this inspired cause and encourage enthusiastic support.

I'm holding some "callous cushions" - we gave them out at the end of our workshop to remind everyone to "joyfully promote justice, hilariously undermine malice, and, no matter what the spelling or meaning, always cushion your callous!"  (That's what we wrote on the back of the cushion strip....)

I'm holding some "callous cushions" - we gave them out at the end of our workshop to remind everyone to "joyfully promote justice, hilariously undermine malice, and, no matter what the spelling or meaning, always cushion your callous!"  (That's what we wrote on the back of the cushion strip....)

    And that’s how Rev. Laura Gentry (Eunice) and I (Madge) began our time with 25 game, curious folks who’d signed up for our workshop entitled “Laughter for a Change!” that was part of the 6th Annual Wild Goose Festival, a Christian Woodstock of sorts in Hot Springs NC where several thousand progressive Christians, pilgrims and spiritual seekers gathered for a 4-day weekend to explore issues of social justice, enjoy super great hip hop and blues, share our important and beautiful art with one another, worship, and camp. 

At this year's fest, We were blessed with talks and sermons by some very powerful speakers, including Rev. Nadia Boles-Weber, Rev. William Barber, Sister Simone (one of the "Nuns on a Bus"), Sojourner's editor Jim Wallis and author/artist Frank Schaeffer.  

At this year's fest, We were blessed with talks and sermons by some very powerful speakers, including Rev. Nadia Boles-Weber, Rev. William Barber, Sister Simone (one of the "Nuns on a Bus"), Sojourner's editor Jim Wallis and author/artist Frank Schaeffer.  

    Our 50-minute workshop, which bore the subtitle, “Social Protest, Humor and the Bible,” began after working the crowd to contribute to our bake sale.  When 75 cents was dumped into the bowl for Congresswoman sleeved dresses, we discerned it was time to begin.  Laura and I explained that we were giving tribute to a group of social justice clowns (clownettes?) known as “Ladies Against Women”.  LAW was a guerrilla feminist theater troupe from 1980’s San Francisco that fought the Phyllis Schlafley/Moral Majority agenda with all sorts of zany antics, including a bake sale they’d held, avec ironing board, in front of the GOP convention hall in Dallas in 1984.  That sale and their goodies were to support Reagan’s defense budget.  I’ve seen photos of the looks on the faces of passing by the Defense Budget Bake Sale ironing board as they entered the convention hall.  Really bad flatulence couldn’t have caused sourer looks on those passers-by’s faces. 

The Bake Sale in its glory!  (Unfortunately, I don't have access to the photos of the sour faces...but what fun you get to imagine them!)

The Bake Sale in its glory!  (Unfortunately, I don't have access to the photos of the sour faces...but what fun you get to imagine them!)

    Eunice and Madge, er, Laura and I, then asked our Wild Goose workshop participants the $100,000 question:

    Why might a Ladies Against Women Bake Sale be something the Church should do?

    (Surprisingly, not one person said, “Because bake sales are always appropriate at church!”)

    Instead, our sharp crew had some good suggestions, including, “Because our Old Testament prophets (notorious for speaking out for social justice) were the original performance artists.”  Indeed!  They did some pretty wacky things to get their messages across to Israel's political elite! I told our workshop group I could only imagine the looks if Madge and Eunice, like Ezekiel, laid on their right and left sides for months at a time in front of the White House….

    Laura and I then launched into our thoughts about why humor and play should most definitely be part of the Christian disciple’s palate when discerning how best to follow the command to “do justice.”  

    First, there are pragmatic reasons.  Among them…

    - It’s fun!

    - It’s easy to get “regular folk” involved!

    - It’s a great way to show up the true absurdity of those who are oppressing!

    - Great press!

    - It’s cool - great way to get dates!

    We provided an example of a comic social justice action somewhere in the world and at some point in history for each of these points. 

"Gnomes" with orange hats became the symbol of resistance in Poland, for interesting and hilarious reasons I can't go into here.  But putting on a goofy orange hat became an easy entre for otherwise timid folks to join the parade for freedom from Communist oppression in the late 1980's.

"Gnomes" with orange hats became the symbol of resistance in Poland, for interesting and hilarious reasons I can't go into here.  But putting on a goofy orange hat became an easy entre for otherwise timid folks to join the parade for freedom from Communist oppression in the late 1980's.

    Unfortunately, there were no examples to share from the ecclesial realm….

    However, Laura continued, they should - we should - start!  Because there are theological reasons for being funny.

    For example, Elie Weisel spoke of how those of the Judeo/Christian tradition believe God is all about goodness, and yet we also can't help but acknowledge evil exists.  How can that paradox be?  Weisel suggests laughter allows us to acknowledge this contradiction and hold its tension, which creates space for the finding of true hope and strength to carry on and, with God's help, make things better.  

Here is an excellent resource for learning more about the significant theological reasons it's important to laugh....

Here is an excellent resource for learning more about the significant theological reasons it's important to laugh....

    Then, I piped up, “It’s biblical!”  And suggested several places in scripture where satire and comedy are used to stick it to the Man.

    - The Tower of Babel!  Mocks supposedly mighty Babylon and its super tall “Zaggurat” that was supposed to give the Empire the fast track to the Divine ear.

    - Jonah!  A story that hilariously parodies the biblical prophetic tradition and the assumption that God’s message of salvation is only intended for the Israelites and the “good people” (who never seem to listen anyway).

    - The Song of Solomon!  That erotic “honeymoon night” love poem that of course was named after Solomon…since apparently he married thousands of women - foreign women - during his kingship that ended up breaking the nation apart.  Yeah, the “wisdom of Solomon” was provided by the brain between his legs!

    - Palm Sunday!  The original “Doo Dah” parade mocking the mighty military Roman Imperial Procession on the other side of town that always took place in Jerusalem just before Passover.  

Jesus' feet are about to drag along the ground.  Hail to the King!

Jesus' feet are about to drag along the ground.  Hail to the King!

    Everyone at our workshop seemed to enjoy and get a lot out of what we were saying.  So it was time to put things on their feet.  Literally! 

    There is an All-Goose parade at the end of the weekend.  Folks joyfully march around the campground for social justice, overcoming oppression, faithful solidarity and the emergence of God’s realm.

    Time to add some Laughter for a Change, too!  

    We only had about 15 minutes left before another presentation was to begin, so we had to work fast.  We solicited from our participants issues they felt presently needed heavy duty attention and protesting.  Of course several important ones were immediately suggested.  We wrote them down on strips of paper and Eunice selected one…it was the Muslim Travel Ban.  

To help keep us on time throughout our presentation, we got a volunteer to watch his watch and make a funny sound at every five minute interval, telling us it was time to move onto the next section of our discussion.  We also got a volunteer to act as our "Vanna", walking across the space displaying the title of each next section...of course to much applause and many 'ooh's' and 'aah's'!

To help keep us on time throughout our presentation, we got a volunteer to watch his watch and make a funny sound at every five minute interval, telling us it was time to move onto the next section of our discussion.  We also got a volunteer to act as our "Vanna", walking across the space displaying the title of each next section...of course to much applause and many 'ooh's' and 'aah's'!

    We broke the group into several small groups and told each to come up with a few ideas for protesting the Travel Ban that included humor.  Carl Jung was clearly in attendance, because each group came up with the same idea:  An All-American Traveling Muslim BAND!  Perfect for a Kingdom of God Parade!  

    The next morning - the final day of the Fest and, hence, the day of the parade - we gathered before the festivities to make some fun signs.  Big plus:  one of our group had just bought himself a musical gourd from a Wild Goose vendor, and it turned out to be a Middle Eastern instrument to boot.  Hoorah!  We now had accompaniment for our prophetic and loopy procession!

    We found ourselves at tail end of the parade.  Which was perfect!  People marching loved speaking out in solidarity for our Muslim brothers and sisters in this fun, playful, extra-energetic way.  People watching us were laughing and cheering us on…several joined us.  (Like the experts have said…do something fun and everyone will want to be a part!

We also had fun criticizing any Muslin Ban!

We also had fun criticizing any Muslin Ban!

Gotta stand up for our Grannies!  (And kiss the rubber chicken....)

Gotta stand up for our Grannies!  (And kiss the rubber chicken....)

    It also reminded me of what many leading thinkers on social protest have suggested…when the statement being made is done in a festive, carnival-like atmosphere, it gives everyone a positive, hopeful glimpse of the world we want to create - where joy and justice and harmony prevail...just like that!  (Isn't that perhaps the real reason Jesus was always about having controversially inclusive dinner parties and and describing the Kingdom of God as a huge wedding feast where all are invited??)

    When the march and several enthusiastic group photos were over, Laura and I bid farewell to our game and godly gallivanters.  We invited them to keep their protest posters, which they were very happy to do.  We also invited them to remember what we’d done here, and how profoundly powerful it felt.  In addition to being absolutely delightful and instant community-building.  So much of what Jesus wants us to do and be.  

I want to thank everyone who was a part, especially my clergy partner-in-crime, Laughing Laura Gentry!  Also a shout-out to Ed Greenburg and his wonderful improv troupe, "Laughter for a Change."  They've been doing amazing work across the globe and were the inspiration for my workshop title!  

I want to thank everyone who was a part, especially my clergy partner-in-crime, Laughing Laura Gentry!  Also a shout-out to Ed Greenburg and his wonderful improv troupe, "Laughter for a Change."  They've been doing amazing work across the globe and were the inspiration for my workshop title!  

    And wouldn’t it be great if All American Traveling Muslim Bands sprung up all over the place?  Playfully inviting all to play?   And if that didn’t work, or wasn't appropriate (if Muslim's in your community are a little uncomfortable with the use of music and dance), you could always revert to an equally wacky Plan B.  Especially when it's even muggier than North Carolina and marching is just too unpleasant.  

Yes!  If the President wants a travel ban so badly, send him a roll of....

Yes!  If the President wants a travel ban so badly, send him a roll of....